Pelham mayor calls on Cuomo to open cinemas: Picture House key to rebuilding vibrant downtown

Pelham mayor calls on Cuomo to open cinemas: Picture House key to rebuilding vibrant downtown

Pelham Examiner file photo

Editor’s note: This letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo from Village of Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen was provided by Mullen.

Dear Governor Cuomo,

Thank you for your leadership during these unprecedented times. While we continue to stay vigilant in our fight against COVID-19, I am happy to report that here in the Village of Pelham, our children are back in school on a hybrid schedule, many of our residents are returning to work and our restaurants are serving local customers again by utilizing public spaces (sidewalks, streets, park space) that we’ve dedicated for them to use for outdoor seating. It has been a long road and we are proud of the perseverance and creativity that has allowed us to transition to this new way of living.

But as you know, this pandemic is far from over. Some of our most prized local businesses continue to struggle and before this crisis ends, many of them may close their doors for good. You have issued guidance that allows many industries to open and operate safely, including shopping malls, bowling alleys, salons, restaurants, gyms, and even casinos – and yet there is one industry in particular that you have failed to support.

Since March 17th, all New York movie theaters have been shuttered, including our own local non-profit theater, the Picture House, which had hoped to open during Phase 4. Unfortunately, cinemas of all sizes were removed from your list of businesses approved for reopening just days before that phase began, which you’ve indicated was due to your belief that cinemas are “less essential.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

In normal times, our community cinema provides free movies for our seniors, educational programs for kids and adults, community concerts and forums, and a welcome escape for all of us looking for a night out with our loved ones. The Picture House is a powerful engine for our local economy. It drives foot traffic – and desperately needed revenue – to each of the other businesses and restaurants throughout our downtown core. It’s the kind of local institution that only comes along once every 100 years – literally. It was founded in 1921, just a few years after the last global pandemic flu brought our nation to its knees. Next year, when this crisis is finally behind us, we hope to be celebrating The Picture House’s 100th Anniversary. But that celebration may not happen if you do not act.

As you know, a group of independent theaters – including The Picture House – signed on to a letter asking you for guidance and approval for reopening. To ensure safety, which must always be our chief concern, the National Association of Theater Owners has launched their CinemaSafe campaign and prepared safety protocols that include limiting seating capacity, providing adequate spacing between parties inside the auditorium, requiring mandatory mask wearing for all staff and patrons, and routinely sanitizing all shared spaces. Because the Picture House is smaller than many commercial chains and operates with a different business model, they have the flexibility to go even further to ensure safety, by installing MERV-13 filtration in all HVAC systems, spacing times between movies to avoid cross-traffic between audiences, and even by eliminating concession sales to provide a fully masked environment for the duration of a film. I must admit, this last one is difficult for me personally because The Picture House’s popcorn is legendary – but they’re ready to do what it takes.

Governor, you must understand: we are a small community with a downtown that runs the length of one short corridor. Nine months from now, I will be tasked with rebuilding the vibrancy of our local economy. The Picture House will undoubtedly be a core part of our strategy, and we will need to leverage it to attract new restaurants and shops to fill our newly-vacant storefronts. We will not be able to do that if we cannot first ensure they make it through the winter. I urge you to help me save independent cinema in New York State and give theaters like The Picture House a fighting chance.

Thank you again for your leadership.

With gratitude,

Chance Mullen

Mayor

Village of Pelham